McGill or bust: Father-son team drive around the world to get to University

Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013
"One of the most beautiful places in the world," says Edward Durgan of the Mongolian steppe. / Photo: Edward Durgan.

“One of the most beautiful places in the world,” says Edward Durgan of the Mongolian steppe. / Photo: Edward Durgan.

Will cover some 18,000 km by journey’s end

By Neale McDevitt

It is an itinerary that could have been drawn up by Indiana Jones.

Like so many families before them, Edward Durgan and his father Graham thought it would be nice if they drove to McGill together for Edward’s first semester in Political Science this August. The only difference is they decided to take the scenic route – one that, once completed, will have covered 18,000 kilometres, spanned the globe through 14 countries and led the intrepid pair through the Gobi Desert and across the Pacific Ocean aboard a cargo ship.

“My mother really does think we’re bonkers. She tried and tried [to dissuade us from making the trip], and so did my grandmothers,” said 19-year-old Edward in an email interview from the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park in Mongolia, 40 days into the epic adventure. “But my father and I decided we wanted to do it, and once we had the idea we couldn’t not do it.”

The duo set off on their great adventure on May 6 from their home in Littlewick Green, in the English county of Berkshire, having crammed their 11-year-old Toyota Land Cruiser with the necessary gear – including a defibrillator and a satellite phone – for a three-and-a-half month trek.

Father-son globetrotters, Edward, left, and Graham. Edward will begin his studies in Political Science in September. / Photo courtesy of Edward Durgan.

Father-son globetrotters, Edward, left, and Graham. Edward will begin his studies in Political Science in September. / Photo courtesy of Edward Durgan.

But instead of turning left and heading toward the Atlantic Ocean, the Durgan’s turned right on an Eastbound path that has seen them traverse France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Sweden, Russia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. Once they cut through Northern China to the coast, the duo – Land Cruiser and all – will hitch a ride aboard a cargo ship to California. From there, a transcontinental trek will bring the weary road warriors to Canada sometime in August.

Asked about the genesis of this trip of a lifetime, the younger Durgan says it was a question of go big or go home. “In the UK it is very common for people to take a ‘gap year’ between school and university, so I always wanted to take one and go travelling… There is a charity rally in the UK called the Mongol Rally, where you drive from London to Ulan Bataar ‘in a car that your grandmother would drive,’ which I thought about doing but then my father expressed interest in doing an overlanding [travelling by car] trip,” said Edward.

“As neither of us believe in making small plans, we thought if we were going to drive to Mongolia, we might as well go all the way round the world… Our view was London to Mongolia is one-third of the way round the world – why not just do the other two-thirds?”

Even before the intrepid duo set off, the trip presented any number of potential challenges. For starters, neither is mechanically inclined when it comes to cars, so any engine problems could mean a lengthy delay. “Neither Dad or I know how to fix a car so if we break down in the Gobi desert then I guess we’ll just sit down, have a cup of tea and hope a nice Mongolian can help us out,” Edward told the local newspaper, The Maidenhead Advertiser, in an interview.

Breaking down is one thing, trying to stay alive on some roads is a whole other challenge. “[We dealt with] lorry drivers and Lada drivers weaving and out of traffic at 80 mph-plus whilst dodging potholes which were over a foot deep and six feet wide,” said Edward. “We saw dead bodies lying in the middle of the road, and many other fatal accidents.”

Camping on the Mongolian steppe. / Photo: Edward Durgan.

Camping on the Mongolian steppe. / Photo: Edward Durgan.

Because the Durgans are traversing some very wild and unpopulated regions, they have spent many nights camping. “We camped in Sweden, Russia and Mongolia, and we may have to in China,” said Edward. “My father hasn’t camped since 1975, so rough camping in the middle of Mongolia was a bit of an experience for him.

“That’s another reason why this trips such an adventure, neither my father or I can cook! – so we’re living off boil in the bag and local Mongolian mutton,” said Edward. “All you have to do to both of those is boil it.”

And despite having to contend with a myriad of “grumpy border guards,” Edward figures he and his father have done the impossible. “We drove from Russia’s far West to Russia’s far East without paying any fines or bribes. We were only pulled over by one policeman in the whole of Russia, and he just wanted to know where we were from,” he said. “We think it may be a world record.”

But, says Edward, the experience – however uncomfortable for his father – has been well worth it. “[One of the real highlights] was camping on the Mongolian Steppe in complete isolation, and then watching a nomadic herdsman drive his cows whilst on horseback past our tents,” said Edward.

When asked what he has learned about himself during the course of the ultimate road trip, Edward answers in typical tongue-in-cheek fashion. “What have I learned? How I need vast quantities of food to eat to not be grumpy.”

And what has he learned about his father? “He’s more adventurous than I thought, not many people who are nearly 60 would be happy to drive around the world with their 19-year-old son,” says Edward. “Travelling with friends is one thing, and is a completely different experience to travelling with your father/parent. I don’t think you could create a bigger father/son bonding experience than this.”

To read how the Durgan’s fared in the second half of their odyssey, go here.

To follow Edward Durgan’s blog click here.

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32 Responses to McGill or bust: Father-son team drive around the world to get to University

  1. C says:

    Fascinating, but does little to convince me that my fellow students at McGill are ordinary people and not part of a wealthy elite. I see that Edward is a private(public) school chum. Next how about a story detailing the preparations of a student who knows that he/she will be saddled with debt but chooses to attend university anyway?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Seems like a rich family, shoulda just bribed Oxford, silly.

  3. El says:

    Rich people like traveling, what’s news about this? It would be really impressive if the trip was made by hitch hiking or backpacking through all of these countries.

  4. John pounds says:

    Congratulations,the social misfit commentators with their chippy little remarks are probably more annoying than any of the miscomforts you faced on your trip

  5. Thomas Ashcroft says:

    Hi John, I wholeheartedly concur with you. These commenters just aren’t born into the right families. John, you seem like a nice fellow; join me for a cup of tea on my yacht, I leave for Monaco on Thursday.

  6. MS says:

    Too bad this family hardly represents the student demographic at McGill. With most students racked in debt, globetrotting in a disposable SUV is an unlikely fantasy.

    I hope they won’t be disappointed when they find out that there’s no butler service at any of our residences, and if the kid’s Ferrari bicycle ever gets broken, he’ll probably have to fix it himself.

    I am not quite sure what this article is trying to achieve other than point out that a well-off British family can afford to travel the world. This article might belong to “Dandy Outdoor Adventures” or “Pommie Travels”, but definitely not the McGill Reporter. Please publish articles more relevant to your demographic in the future.

  7. Tony S says:

    Oh look, more whining from poor, downtrodden students. “Saddled with debt”? Try lowest tuition in North America. Life lesson #1: things costs money. Get used to it. Besides, millions of us paid our way through school before you and, guess what? We’re all doing just fine. You criticize “the elite” but the sense of entitlement among the red square brigade is far more offensive than a story about a father and son enjoying a great adventure. And where in the article does it say they are wealthy? Besides, even if they are wealthy, so what? Aren’t people allowed to make money? If the father or mother are talented and motivated enough to give their family a better life, where’s the crime? Don’t begrudge someone their success. Maybe you should whine less about what you don’t have and work harder at getting what you want. P.S. how a single story about a single student gives you insight on the entire student body of McGill is beyond me. Hyperbole much?

  8. Thomas Ashcroft says:

    Tony, you too. I like you, join me on my yacht before Thursday.

  9. MS says:

    Tony, while I respect your opinion, I don’t believe most of us here are/were part of that “red square brigade”. Actually, no one in the comments mentioned anything about it so I’m not sure why you would want to stereotype the commenters above as “whining”, “poor, downtrodden students”.

    In fact, most students here are perfectly ordinary. I’d like to point out that most of our parents actually needed to work through university. Where have those times gone?

    Meanwhile there is nothing wrong with being born into a rich family, I’m sure we are all here at McGill to strive for earning more (whether knowledge or money); I think the bigger point here is that the article comes off as being very ‘elitest’–as you put it– and ‘show-off’. No one likes a show-off, sociology shows humility and humbleness is what gains you respect.

  10. Tony S says:

    Show off? How so? Because a father and son decided to have a great adventure that, in the son’s words created a wonderful bonding experience? If they were sailing around the world on the Queen E II as the sole passengers, I could see that as being “elitist” and a little show off-y. But rough camping out of the back of a beat-up old jeep and eating bags of boiled food for three months? How is that either showing off or a sign of elitism? Wouldn’t they be staying at the finest hotels and dining on rare delicacies? Where’s the opulence? Where’s the perverse extravagance? Could you point to one thing in the article that labels them as either elite or showing off? Hell, I’d take a reference to them even being “wealthy” at this point.

  11. MS says:

    Don’t be too blinded with your own thoughts and please re-read my comment carefully. Have a good day. :)

  12. Tony S says:

    Comment re-read. “I think the bigger point here is that the article comes off as being very ‘elitest’–as you put it– and ‘show-off’. No one likes a show-off, sociology shows humility and humbleness is what gains you respect.” So, I ask again; how are they being either elitist or show offs?

  13. MS says:

    This feels like grade school again… the keyword here is “article”, Tony. :)

    Media can alter what you perceive. I’m sure they are a nice family, they even put up a cancer fundraiser for the trip.

  14. Tony S says:

    So you’re saying you can’t give me a single example of them showing off with this trip, right? Sorry, I thought that was what we were debating here.

  15. MS says:

    Yes, that’s right Tony. I’m pretty sure you were just debating with yourself here. Haha have fun.

  16. Tony S says:

    I suspect you are right because as soon as I questioned things that you had written, you backed off without being able to justify anything you had written. No debate here. Just a quick little retreat.

  17. MS says:

    Of course. There’s no need for me to justify anything. You misread my posts and was trying to debate something completely different, an empty point. It’s okay though Tony, people make mistakes.

  18. G says:

    These comments are actually more entertaining than the story itself lol

  19. Tony S says:

    Misread your posts? Like the first one, in which you disparagingly point to the fact that the son may be disappointed at McGill because there is no butler service… or that he’ll have to fix his own “Ferrari bicycle”… and that the McGill Reporter would be better served “publish[ing] articles more relevant to [its] demographic. Or the second post where you wrote “I think the bigger point here is that the article comes off as being very ‘elitest’–as you put it– and ‘show-off’”? It seems to me your one and only point is that this trip somehow represents the rampant opulence of the wealthy. I’m just asking how eating food boiled in bags and living out of a jeep for three months actually illustrates that. You are right, perhaps I am mistaken. All I ask is that you illuminate my poor mistaken self with a little clarification. P.S. While you’re doing all that elucidating, what exactly is the McGill Reporter demographic anyway or “the student demographic at McGill” anyway? Just curious.

  20. Hannah says:

    Wow.. It seems like this comments are just filled with a lot of jealousy. I say hats off to Edward and his Dad. Just because they did a big trip doesn’t mean anything at all about how wealthy or not they are. As mentioned before, eating boiled noodles and camping every day hardly makes for an expensive trip.. It takes courage and resourcefulness. It sounds like a truly incredible, life-changing trip and although I too am a bit jealous of Edward’s experiences, instead of being bitter I think we should all show a little bit of respect for this feat. Hope to meet you this coming year at McGill, Edward!

  21. mc says:

    I perfectly agree with Tony. A nice and somewhat unusual adventure like what the Durgans’ took en route to McGill should not perversely (mis)interpreted or criticized as elitist. There is nothing inappropriate with McGill Reporter’s story either. Let us just try to be less cynical and have more faith in humanity.

  22. BLewis says:

    This is the kind of student who will be a credit to McGill. Adventurous, open-minded, adaptable… This sound like a fabulous experience that will only deepen the qualities and skill sets this young man is bringing to McGill. One can only hope this may inspire those he comes into contact with while here. A global view and a “can-do” attitude are what we all need to succeed in this changing world. That, combined with the ability to get along with others even in stressful circumstances, will be this student’s ticket to success, far more than any “privileges” (real or perceived) he may enjoy.

  23. To those supporters – thank you
    .
    To those ‘non supporters’ – “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
    ― Augustine of Hippo

    Ed Durgan

  24. Hyeunjoon Kim says:

    Man. What’s up with all the hate. I took a nice road trip with my father and uncle the summer before university and is what a wonderful, eye-opening experience and great bonding time. I think what Edward is doing with his dad is totally amazing and I literally have no clue what people like “MS” are getting at. Seriously dude/dudette? Please get out of stereotypeland. And I read (and re-read *chuckle*) all your posts “MS” and you basically justified nothing and did not stand by a single thing that you said in face on Tony’s critique. I hope you don’t write papers in the same manner that you write your online comments “MS”. Props to you Edward, have a great time with your old man and I really like that Augustine quote! Enjoy McGill my friend, it can be a bureaucracy at times filled with headaches and unpleasant surprises, but you will also without a doubt meet many awesome people and have rich experiences for sure, all the best Edward.

  25. NeG says:

    Way to go Ed+dad!

  26. JC says:

    Thanks Ed. Keep on truckin. And think not about the cynics, wish them instead three months with their Dads. Braving the wilderness, knowing that in some places you could be killed for your shoes is no small feat, no pun intended. Amazing what you must have seen and experienced so far, though. Good luck, have fun, blog on. When you get done, though, I would get rid of the Toyota. They’re bad news.

  27. wilkinsonvt says:

    I very much enjoyed this story. Congrats to you and your father for taking time to share an epic adventure together.

  28. Maria del Pilar says:

    What an inspiring journey and beautiful photo! Being on the road with your dad is a treasure that you will remember for ever. Enjoy McGill! It also has its own beauty, magic views and interesting people.

  29. A Hasegawa says:

    What an inspiring and refreshing story. I find it quite rare these days to congratulate people for accomplishing such a feat. While it is true that we are not all quite as fortunate as Ed and his father for completing such a feat, it is quite inspiring to hear a father going the extra mile (both figuratively and literally) spending quality time with his son before taking upon a new chapter in life. I myself, went to an alternative school before attending McGill and had the fortune of meeting people from quite a diverse collection of backgrounds. There is no need to be petty and display jealousy towards this father + son’s amazing journey. Keep it up and all the best to this father and son duo on a safe travels to McGill!!!!!

  30. mcgillgrad says:

    I’m not hating! But rich folks travelling is not news. most kids at mcgill or coming into mcgill will struggle financially, spend many hours working on and off campus just to pay bills and now this article shows what they cant do. total bs.

  31. Tony says:

    How many students are there at McGill? 30,000 or so? And you know that “most” will “struggle financially.” Any actual data to back that up? I didn’t think so. Also, when will you and your ilk stop whining about having to work your way through school? Your parents probably had to (if they went to university), I did, all my friends did. My parents did. It’s called the real world. The only difference is we didn’t whinge and whine like you and your cohort. So you can’t travel because you have to work? Boo hoo. Let me toss a few concepts at you: ambition and motivation. If someone has something that you want, be ambitious and motivated enough to work towards attaining it. Yes, I used that four letter word, W-O-R-K. Work hard, stay motivated and, guess what, chances are you’ll be rewarded by having the means to travel and see the world a bit. Finally, if every article posted here were only allowed to focus upon things that applied directly to you, this site would only run articles about whiners who are yoked with an over-developed sense of entitlement and blinding self-centredness. Not everything has to relate to you. Read things about people who are different than you, it might expand your horizons a bit and broaden your world view.

  32. LD says:

    I read this article when it was first posted and have enjoyed reading Edward’s blog, as well. I think it’s absolutely fantastic what Edward and his dad have done. How lucky they are to have such an opportunity to travel together. Who cares how the trip was funded (and it’s really nobody’s business) – the memories Edward and his dad made together will long surpass any debt or empty savings accounts or other things that could’ve been bought with the money they spent. I have traveled a lot, and have spent even more time saving for those travels. I am not a privileged student; I have had tons of student loans and have worked hard to pay them off myself. As Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” If only everyone saw the importance of travel, or at least had enough sense to not judge others. Thanks for posting this article, McGill Reporter. I think it’s a great way to open up minds and show the out-of-the-box possibilities that are out there.

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